It’s no secret that I love doing work on Upwork, and I want to help other people benefit from this platform too.
But you can’t start making a living on Upwork if you get your account closed down for a violation or because you fell prey to a scammer.
If you’re just starting out on Upwork—or have been here for a while and want to make sure you keep earning money—always remember these eight things that could get you banned from the platform.
1. Chatting with prospective clients off-platform
From time to time, a prospective client will ask me to chat with them through a service like WhatsApp or ring them directly on the phone. Sometimes, I even see clients posting their phone numbers or email addresses in their job posts.
Whether someone posts their contact information in the job or they respond to your proposal with a WhatsApp request, this kind of contact is against the Upwork Terms of Service. This is to protect users like you and me from Upwork scams.
If you move off of the platform to talk to a prospective client you met on Upwork, it can be easier for them to ask you to share personal or banking details—and harder for you to report them for suspicious behavior. It can also lead to your Upwork account being closed down, as you’ve gone against the usage terms.
By only chatting with prospective clients through Upwork Messages—and this includes starting a Zoom or phone call through the platform—you can get help from Upwork if you feel that someone’s attempting to run a scam or take advantage of you.
It’s only once a contract has started that you can start communicating with a client off of Upwork, such as if they want to put you in a shared Slack channel. That said, lots of clients still like chatting on Upwork through the duration of a project—it makes it easy to have all files and communications in one spot.
So, what should you do if someone asks you to contact them outside of Upwork before starting a contract?
My first reaction is always to tell them that I can only chat with them on Upwork until we’ve started a contract. If their request was truly innocent—perhaps they’re new to Upwork and didn’t realize what the rules are—then they should agree with no argument. I’ve even had clients thank me for letting them know, because they want to be mindful of Upwork’s terms, too.
If they keep pushing, I won’t work with them.
2. Invoicing clients off-platform
This one goes along with keeping initial chats on the platform—but you’ll always want to keep billing your clients through Upwork.
Yes, meeting a client on Upwork and then invoicing them separately—or getting added to their payroll—is against the terms of service and can get your account shut down. But it’s also risky in a few other ways.
When you start an Upwork contract with a client, one of two things happens:
- If it’s a fixed price contract, the client pays for the first milestone in advance. Upwork holds this money in escrow for you, meaning it’s secure in an account that only Upwork can touch. Once the job’s done, payment gets released to you, and you completely avoid any horror story situations of clients who run off without paying.
- If you’re working on an hourly contract, the client pays after approving your logged time—and if they don’t, Upwork will still make sure that you get paid for all of your work that qualifies for hourly payment protection.
As someone who does a lot of work for clients on Upwork and is also an Upwork client myself, I honestly find this setup to be really brilliant for everyone. It helps me manage my payments as a client, and I know I’m protected when I’m doing work for someone else. I also know that I can always reach out to Upwork customer support for help if I need it, which is nice.
Plus, I never have to give my bank card or account details to anyone, client or talent. This helps keep me safe.
There’s one exception to this rule: if the client goes through the conversion process to take your working relationship off platform, you can then begin invoicing them directly or join their non-Upwork payroll. If a client requests to do this, Upwork support will reach out and ask if you’d like to proceed as well. You’re under no obligation to work with anyone off the platform if you don’t want to.
3. Manipulating feedback
Trying to boost your rating on Upwork can seem like a fairly innocent task … but it’s one that can get you banned from the platform.
Now, it’s totally fine to ask a real client that you’ve done work for if they’d be willing to leave you a review (and Upwork will remind them to do so as well). But what’s not okay is to do things like:
- Signing up for a new account with a different email address, posing as a client, and “hiring” your talent profile to “work”
- Asking a friend or family member to hire you for a job—real or fake—with the express purpose of leaving you a five-star review
- Applying to scam job posts that guarantee five-star reviews in exchange for Amazon reviews, YouTube link clicks, social media follows, or PayPal transactions (and that’s just a few of the scam scenarios you could encounter)
- Telling clients you won’t give them their finished work or will leave them negative feedback if they don’t rate you positively
- Paying or otherwise bribing your clients to leave you good reviews
The best way to get good feedback on your Upwork profile is by doing high-quality work for real clients! And it’s the only way to keep your account in good standing, boost your Job Success Score and reach Top Rated status or higher.
4. Passing off work that isn’t yours
Now, this one isn’t the same as working with a subcontractor. You can absolutely work with a team or build an agency on Upwork.
I myself have an agency called DigitalME, and I work with several business managers through Upwork. They’re part of my agency, and I pay them through Upwork to help me with projects for our clients.
Instead, I’m talking about using work that you don’t have the rights to and telling the client that you do, or that it’s an original product you produced yourself.
This would be like buying a Canva template—one meant for personal use—on a site like Etsy, and then telling the client you created it for them. Or removing the watermarks from stock footage you didn’t purchase, and giving it to the client.
If you’re starting to use artificial intelligence (AI) for creative work, then this is something to be really cognizant of as you take on clients.
You might need to disclose when AI is used for certain projects, and sometimes generative AI tools like Stable Diffusion produce images that are borderline copyright infringement. I tend to lean on the side of caution and feel that it’s really safest to use these tools for inspiration, not final products.
5. Using a fake name or profile image
Always use your real name and picture on Upwork—doing otherwise can leave you with a suspended account.
While I know that some folks like to use alternate versions of their name and a generic profile picture on social media apps like Facebook or TikTok, Upwork’s a place where you need to represent yourself as you are.
It would be a bit weird if you walked into an office or a shop near your house and everyone was wearing a full ski mask or a paper bag over their head, right? You tend to want to see the faces of the people you’re doing business with. And it’s the same for clients on Upwork.
Even though clients are coming to you online, not from right down the street, they still want to know that they’re working with a real person they can trust. This builds trust, and helps the client know that they’re not getting scammed.
Using your real name and profile picture on Upwork doesn’t mean you have to abandon all sense of privacy, though. There are a few different levels of profile visibility, which you can change in your account settings.
- Public profiles are visible to everyone, whether or not they’re logged into Upwork. Your profile can also be picked up by search engines, which is helpful for visibility.
- Profiles restricted to only Upwork users are exactly that—only visible to logged-in clients. Your profile won’t be picked up by search engines, either.
- Private profiles mean that your details can’t be seen by anyone unless you send a logged-in Upwork user a direct link to your page.
Upwork also won’t show your full last name to clients until you begin interacting with each other, such as by sending a proposal or exchanging messages.
6. Letting someone else use your account
It’s also important that you’re the only person who ever uses your Upwork talent profile. Agency and client profiles can have more than one user—but if you’ve got a profile where you’re marketing your services, it’s got to really be you behind the scenes.
If someone asks to use your account, you can’t control what they do. They might produce low-quality work, violate the Upwork terms of service, or run an active scam. Whether they’re a stranger who sends you a message asking to use your account or it’s someone you know in real life—this is never a good idea, and it can lead to account suspension.
Sharing your Upwork login details can also give someone access to your personal information as well as information about your work, your clients, your finances, and more.
Just don’t do it. No matter what kind of story someone tells you—if they’re really having a problem with their own account or are having trouble getting started on Upwork, there are people at Upwork who can help them with their issue.
7. Padding your hours
I feel like this one is pretty straightforward, but it has to be said—don’t lie about your hours worked!
When you do an hourly contract, clients can opt to let you log hours without using Upwork’s desktop time tracker. If you have this option, and choose not to use the Upwork app, be sure to keep careful track of your hours with another program. Some people use Everhour or Toggl. Then, only log the hours you actually worked on your Upwork timesheet.
I log my hours manually and am fully transparent beforehand with clients about how I log hours, and why I prefer the method that I use.
If you fudge your hours, it can result in losing your Upwork account privileges.
That said, using Upwork’s desktop app is the most straightforward option. You won’t have to do the added step of transferring your hours worked from one tracker to another, and it’s just really simple to use.
8. Posting or offering illegal jobs and services
Finally, don’t post any jobs or offer any services that aren’t allowed on Upwork. A good benchmark is if it’s generally illegal—or widely regarded as shady—chances are, it’s not the sort of job you should do through Upwork.
This includes (but isn’t totally limited to):
- Helping people cheat on tests or writing essays for students
- Offering or supporting anything sexually explicit or pornographic
- Anything related to child exploitation
- Asking children to do any work, even if legitimate—like searching for a child actor to appear in a commercial
- Engaging in the process of mining or scraping data that isn’t yours to collect
- Offering to create fake profiles or “bot” followers for social media accounts
- Writing fake reviews, on or off of upwork
- Making up fake news reports
- Hacking any person or system
- Revealing details about private individuals, or doing the research to help someone else engage in doing so
- Building tools to help with phishing, or carrying out phishing attempts
- Creating violent content or threats
If you see someone else offering this type of work on Upwork, or have anyone contact you through Messages with these sorts of requests, don’t engage. Flag the content or message so that the Upwork team can review it—and then let them take it from there.
Make the most of your Upwork account
I know it’s possible to build a business and make a great livelihood on Upwork—I’ve done it. And you can too. By taking these steps to protect your Upwork account—and yourself—you can keep finding work that’s a great fit for your skill sets.
If you’re new to Upwork and are interested in growing your business with more leads and work, get started by creating an account—and then just follow the tips above to keep your account in great standing.